The Definition of a Serial Killer

In Uncategorized on October 6, 2009 at 9:41 am

Definition of a Serial Killer (FBI):

“Three or more separate events, in three or more separate locations, with an emotional ‘cooling-off period’ between homicides.”

FBI Crime Classification Manual (1992)

FBI Definition’s three elements –

  1. Quantity
    1. There must be at least three murders.
  2. Place
    1. The murders must take place at different locations.
  3. Time
    1. There must be a “cooling-off period” – an interval between the murders that can last anywhere from several hours to several years.

The second and third elements are meant to differentiate from “Mass Murder…”

General Definition of Mass Murder:

“A suicidal, rage-filled individual [who] slaughters a bunch of people at once; A disgruntled employee, for example, who shows up at his office with an automatic weapon and blows away a half a dozen co-workers before turning the gun on himself.”

–          The Serial Killer Files by Harold Schechter (2003)

Problems with the definition the FBI put in place:

  1. It’s too broad
    1. It can be applied to homicidal types who aren’t serial killers;
      1. i. Professional hit men
      2. ii. Western outlaws
      3. iii. “Mad Bombers
  2. It’s too narrow
    1. It specifies that a serial killer has to kill “in three or more separate locations.” There are many who killed in one place;
      1. i. Jeffrey Dahmer
      2. ii. John Wayne Gacy

  1. It doesn’t specify the “nature” of the crimes
    1. a. According to The Serial Killer Files by Harold Schechter, the modern serial killers all have one thing in common: “a strong component of depraved sexuality.”

“Recognizing this fact, some experts stress the serial murder, defining it as the act of ultraviolent deviants, who get twisted pleasure from inflicting extreme harm on their victims and who will keep on committing their atrocities until they are stopped.”

–          The Serial Killer Files by Harold Schechter

“I wanted to cut her body so she would not look like a person, and destroy her so she would not exist. I began to cut on her body. I remember cutting her breasts off. After this, all I remember is that I kept cutting on her body.”

–          James Lawson, Serial Killer by Definition of Intent (1 victim)

Definition of a Serial Killer (National Institutes of Justice)

“A series of two or more murders, committed as separate events, usually, but not always, by one offender acting alone. The crimes may occur over a period of time ranging from hours to years. Quite often the motive is psychological, and the offender’s behavior and the physical evidence observed at the crime scenes will reflect sadistic, sexual overtones.”

–          National Institutes of Justice

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